Taking Science out to Sea

In June 2016, eleven Upper School students embarked on a six-week training module to learn basic kayak strokes and maneuvers, self and assisted rescues, rolling, navigation, planning, leadership and problem solving in the marine environment. This trip was the first step in the yearlong Expeditionary Studies class, introduced for the first time in 2016.

Each day last summer began with a student-led weather and tide brief, followed by a warm-up activity to set the tone for the morning. The instructors constantly challenged the group to solve problems of increasing complexity and to take ownership of the learning process. As a team, they learned from constant, thoughtful reflection of what worked, what did not work, and what could be improved. A few days of wind blowing against current made for more advanced conditions, and set the scene for the group to practice open-water rescues and to appreciate the importance of mastery of skills and situational awareness. The summer training module ended with a video assessment and a group discussion of what we accomplished during the six-weeks together.

The course continues through the 2016-2017 school year. Working on several interwoven components, students have utilized King's campus and laboratories to explore oceanography, meteorology, geomorphology, navigation, wilderness medicine and skills, trip planning, and leadership. The academics have been integrated into experiential learning with relevant and concrete connections to the reality students face on the water and in the coastal environment. In addition to classroom learning, students will train in local waters at Stamford's Cove Beach and through other trips to areas that offer more advanced conditions and opportunities to practice planning and leadership.

Miles Johnson '17 signed up for the course with little knowledge of the subjects he would be studying, but a love of the ocean and the desire to learn new skills with a group of people who felt the same. "I've learned a lot, not only about oceanography and the other sciences behind the course, but also survival skills and what it means to lead and be a leader. I've pushed myself physically and mentally in this course. From learning difficult and demanding techniques to studying the intricacies of currents and winds, this course never ceases to present challenges to our group. If all goes well and our group continues to work as hard as we have been, I feel Scotland will be a great time for all of us."

Students will continue to hone their skills, knowledge, fitness, and experience so that they can identify and solve a variety of problems in a dynamic environment. During March spring break, the class and instructors will dedicate one week to Wilderness First Responder training and certification. For the final class project, the group will go on an kayak expedition in June to the Outer Hebrides off the coast of western Scotland. If conditions permit, students will make the voyage to St. Kilda on a rigid inflatable boat and will use that boat as a mothership. They will be shadowed by a support vehicle while they kayak along the coast of South Uist and circumnavigate the main island of Hirta.

Andrew Schoudel, US Science Faculty and Instructor of Expeditionary Studies, is confident that his class will be ready for the June 2017 expedition. "The Outer Hebrides of Scotland represents a blend of natural and human history and a wealth of opportunity for exploration. It is the home of ancient civilizations, Viking expeditions, and a rich mix of geologic, oceanographic, meteorological processes that are unique on Earth. The training and studies that began last June are focused on preparing our students to be safe and effective as they explore and learn about the relationships between them and the Earth, others, and themselves."

For Josephine Lewis '17, everything about the class screamed adventure, and she is always looking for a new adventure. "I didn't realize how intense it was actually going to be until I started the summer training: six weeks, five days a week, five hours a day. The class really pushed me to both my physical and mental limits. The students in the class are a medley of driven and focused individuals and it was exciting to develop new relationships. Expeditionary Studies has made me into a stronger individual and I can't thank Mr. Schoudel enough for it - he is an amazing and experienced mentor."